ANNOUNCING THE WINNERS OF 2015 FLASH FICTION CONTEST: REPORT OF THE CHAIR OF JUDGES
There is obviously a strong suggestion of detail and attention in the process that has led to the final shortlist of five writers in the AMAB-HBF Flash Fiction Competition 2015. To the extent that they vigorously inflect, in diverse ways, the broad features of the short story in character, setting, plot, conflict and theme, we are little surprised that the works find resonance with time-tested observations of literary and narrative critics and scholars.
They are, indeed, short stories, in the manner of O. Henry’s, and equally as memorable as his characters are, graphic as the settings, unrelenting in the focus of themes, particularly of works like The Green Door, The Last Leaf and The Gift of Magi, respectively. Yet, if your penchant for the conflict is restricted to the inevitability of a struggle between two people or things, this is somewhat revised from the tradition of Jack London’s To Build a Fire in a number of the stories here.
TJ Benson’s and Awwal Abdul’s stories, in different ways, are good illustrations. Hardly of the mimic type, at least four of the five writers remain something of creative deviants, in the sheer habit of defamiliarising even those standard features of the sub-genre. And yet, they are hardly united in the choice of the narrative voice employed ranging the third, second and first person point of view.
But it must be quickly remarked that stories are not ranked on account of their choice of form of delivery, but the quality of executing any self-chosen form by the authors. For instance, TJ Benson’s An Abundance of Yellow Paper is rendered in the more standard third person narrative voice, but does not detract from the author’s excellent presentation of the story. Of all, Awwal Abdul is the dare-devil with New Openings, by daring the generally ‘forbidden’ second person narrative voice, and yet squeezes enough flow out of the desert, and with sufficient creative brilliance too. The trio of Abdul’s New Openings, Aminu S. Muhammad’s Not at Home and Kelvin Alaneme’s Blood on the Soil deploy the first person narrative voice, even if with different degrees of competence. But above all, they equally broadly attempt to mine the mind in the general strength of the first person narrative; but it is with Awwal Abdul that that old folkloric trick, which has become best exemplified in Faulkner, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce in the tradition of stream of consciousness, seems to return.
Such is the diversity of rendition the judges have been confronted with which, in a way, may be hinting at a resurgence of youth literary, creative energy in the country. It is on the strength of these observations that we announce the outcome of the literary prize along the following ranking:
|Kelvin Alaneme||Blood on the Soil||5th|
|Aminu S. Muhammad||Not at Home||4th|
|Ohioleh Osadebey||God and Other Griefs||3rd|
|Awwal Abdul||New Openings||1st|
|TJ Benson||An Abundance of Yellow||1st|
In spite of the difference of narrative point of view in the rendition of the first prize winners, TJ Benson and Awwal Abdul, some compelling similitudes unite their characterisation and setting, even if the motivation of conflict is different. In terms of characterisation, both protagonists are on the run; Benson’s from the physical society while Abdul’s from his mind. Add to this, they both remain nameless. But it is not merely these stagings of character uniqueness that becomes the ultimate recommendation of their art, but also the sophistication of language as well as exciting turn of phrases.
Osadebey, the third prize winner, is full of surprises and sudden reversals in this short story format. The language is creatively developed, even if slightly limited by unnecessary incursion into academic jargonisms, not as delivered by characters as with those of Soyinka’s The Interpreter but a clear authorial intrusion! It explores, perhaps more than any of the entries, the existentialist impulse; and you could actually whiff a certain Nietzchean energy.
The fourth prize winner, Aminu S. Muhammad’s setting is rural and sharply comes alive with appropriate registers. The characters are knowable and identifiable in the daily rounds of living. The story explores two compelling anxieties: the bride’s and the bridegroom’s, although we only get to know of the latter’s on the bridal night —the bridegroom is impotent! In a story recounted by the bride protagonist, Nzagi. But that is the mere story. What recommends the story is the creative use of time (Dawn—Afternoon—Evening—Night—Morning), as signifier of increasing moments of tension in the conflict. A closer read clearly reveals that Muhammad’s “Not at Home” bears such similarity with H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Alchemist”.
The fifth prize winner, Kelvin Alaneme’s “Blood on the Soil” is an effort at exploring a belief system, but it does not come on strongly enough. The story content is quite plausible but really needs better management, in style and language.
Sola Olorunyomi, Ph.D, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria